TORONTO – Donald Fehr says the NHL Players’ Association is ready to get back to the bargaining table at any moment.
He’s just waiting for the NHL to feel the same way.
“(We aren’t talking) because the owners have not indicated a desire to resume,” the NHLPA’s executive director said Wednesday night before a charity game. “We’ve indicated any number of times that we’re willing to resume when they are (and) we’re willing to resume without preconditions. …
“So we’re waiting to hear back from them.”
The sides haven’t negotiated with one another since Dec. 6 in New York, when talks broke down. They also met with a U.S. federal mediator for two days in New Jersey last week and reported no progress.
From the NHL’s perspective, negotiations should only resume once there is something new to say.
“I don’t think either party is refusing a meeting,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email. “But unless there is an indication one side or the other is prepared to move or has a new idea to move the process forward — and so far neither side has indicated — I am not sure what we would do at the meeting.
“What is the agenda? Who is directing the conversation? We don’t have anything new to say right now.”
Fehr indicated that he liked the idea put forward by Winnipeg Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey that the same parties who met two weeks ago return to the bargaining table, plus himself and commissioner Gary Bettman. Progress was made during a session that included four new owners and a number of players, including Sidney Crosby.
“That seems like it might work if the owners are interested in it,” said Fehr.
However, Daly indicated that it didn’t hold much appeal.
The deputy commissioner created a stir earlier in the day when he made an appearance on CBC’s HNIC Radio and was asked to give a simple yes or no answer on whether there would be an agreement in time to save the season. He responded “yes.”
“That’s good news,” said Fehr. “I’m glad to hear that. I certainly hope he’s right. That’s the players’ goal, that’s what we want to try and do.
“Hopefully, we’ll get back together and negotiate out the remaining issues as soon as possible.”
The NHL has insisted on getting in at least a 48-game schedule — the same number it had after the 94-95 lockout — which means an agreement will need to be reached by the middle of January. More than 500 regular-season games through Dec. 30 have already been wiped off the schedule and further cancellations are expected to be made by the end of the week.
Fehr expressed concern about the damage being caused by hockey’s fourth work stoppage in 20 years.
“Any time you are preventing the fans from watching the sport they dearly love, which provides the business that we’re all involved in, that’s not a good thing,” said Fehr. “And it needs to be ended as soon as possible. We certainly hope we can do that. We certainly want to tell the fans we’re doing everything we can to do it. …
“Hopefully it’ll be over soon. That’s what we’re trying to do.”